{Guest Post} Gifted Adults & Mental Health Misdiagnoses: One Brave Woman’s Story

RedWhiteandGrew.com: Guest blogger Mrs. Warde shares her experience as a gifted adult misdiagnosed with PTSDOriginal artwork by Mrs. Warde

Editor’s Note: It’s been a great privilege of mine in recent years to become acquainted with some amazing women and men parenting gifted and twice-exceptional (“2E”) kids. As work progresses on my second book I’m learning even more about the hardships many of them have endured due to unfortunate misdiagnoses by the presumably well-intentioned medical community.

This story, by my friend and fellow blogger Mrs. Warde, illustrates how important it is for us to identify and nurture gifted individuals early on so that they may obtain appropriate counseling and support services as they progress through their lives.

I am still processing my anger over the misdiagnosis of Bipolar II that I was given by a psychiatrist.

The misdiagnosis made me afraid of myself: of my mind, my curiosity, my passion, of my intellectual gift. I gave myself a virtual lobotomy. I trained myself not to think about anything science-related. And when it could no longer be contained and burst out of me: I feared it. I feared myself. For years I lived in that state. And now I am free, and yet conditioned to fear.

When I am reminded that it is okay to wonder if NASA has done an experiment to determine if gravity has a measurable effect on the rate of osmosis, I breakdown and cry.

How could the doctor have gotten it so wrong? How could my psychiatrist have missed it so badly?

Here’s how:

  1. I didn’t believe in my own giftedness.
  2. My undiagnosed PTSD was being triggered so frequently, it looked like an almost constant state.
  3. I convinced myself that the doctor was right, so I started looking at everything thought a bipolar lens.
  4. I didn’t trust myself.

Let’s look at each of these one at a time.

I didn’t believe in my own giftedness.

And I did not understand what it really meant, especially regarding the downsides. My psychiatrist who diagnosed me as Bipolar II only had the information I gave him to base his decisions on. I don’t remember if I ever told him I had tested at a higher than average IQ or not. It wasn’t “genius” level, so I never thought that it mattered that much. No one ever took the time to explain to me when I took the testing what it meant for me! Until I started researching for my own gifted child, I had never heard of gifted overexcitabilities, .

I did tell my psychiatrist about coming up with the basic concept behind string theory in 6th grade (before the official theory was ever published) but he’d never heard of string theory and didn’t really grasp what that meant. When he heard that I’d been thinking that Einstein may have been wrong about something (which recently had been brought up publicly by a real genius) he smirked and I think he stopped listening after that. He often brought that up, with a smirk on his face, to use as a gauge to see if I was “swinging” or if the meds were working.

My PTSD was constantly being triggered.

When I finally figured out that I had PTSD, and it was confirmed by a (new) professional, I told my family members who knew about the previous Bipolar II diagnosis. The reaction was the same every time: “well, that makes sense.” If it makes so much sense, why did no one ever think of it before and mention it to me?! I’m a bit angry about that, too.

At the time of my diagnosis of Bipolar II I was newly married (at a young age), but we were not living by ourselves. We lived with family. Only very recently has it been made clear to me how toxic the environment in which we lived was. And because of that stress and being constantly triggered, I was not capable of healthy behavior. And it was in that triggered constantly state that my psychiatrist first met me.

I convinced myself that the doctor was right.

Who was I to disagree, after all? He had the education, knowledge, and experience; who was I to argue with that? How he described Bipolar II seemed to fit my periods of obsession with physics (or some other topic) to the exclusion of everything else, my outbursts of anger, and my occasional but non always depression. So once I was convinced, I looked at all of my behavior through that lens. If I was feeling depressed, must be a down swing. I was feeling happy? Must be an upswing. I began to fear being excited about something, passionate about a project, creative or expressive because I thought that was just me in a hypo-manic state. Which is bad. All the wonderful benefits of being gifted, I feared in myself, because I thought it was me being crazy. I wondered aloud how many electrons make up a calorie, and was told, “you know what that means, right? You’re probably swinging.” Unspoken message: thinking too deeply is dangerous.

If you’re gifted, you understand how near impossible it is to turn that off. Especially when you’re interested in atoms, physics, and subatomic particles that are in everything. Every morning for over a year I couldn’t stir my coffee without thinking about how the action of heating and stirring the water made more space in between the water molecules to better allow the coffee and sugar to dissolve. And picturing it in my mind, even though I didn’t want to. And then trying to stop myself from thinking.

Medication helped a little bit, or so I thought. In hindsight I think training myself not to think, and the practice of shutting myself down when any science topic came up, had a more chilling effect.

I didn’t trust myself.

How could I, when I believed that every deep thought was proof of my going off the deep end yet again? So any thought I might have had that would have questioned my diagnosis, I dismissed.

I became pregnant more than a year after I was diagnosed Bipolar II. I had to go off the meds during the pregnancy and….I didn’t “swing.” I did, to my great surprise, very well. But two months after my son was born, I went back on the medications because I was afraid to be without them. I was convinced I would start “swinging” at any time, and I couldn’t risk that with a newborn in my care.

It wasn’t until the next pregnancy after that, again going off the meds and again not swinging, that I started to realize this diagnosis might not be right. It was around this time that I started researching what being “gifted” really meant. Not for myself, because I didn’t think that it applied to me. But for my sons, who it was becoming clear were a bit “more” than their age mates. As I started reading, I realized, hey, that’s me! I saw a chart and where on the gifted spectrum that it put me and I was shocked. Before this, I thought there was Below Average, Average, and Genius. Boy, was I wrong! And as I read about overexcitabilities, I thought, hey, that sounds like me when I’m “swinging.”

When I had my baby girl, I started getting triggered again. I was abused under the age of 5, and when I looked at my baby girl and wondered how they could have done that too me. I reached out about those thoughts and feelings to a wonderful, supportive group on Facebook and one person mentioned, “Hey, that sounds like PTSD.” I was also dealing with some PPD, so I went to a new psychiatrist and a therapist team (we moved while I was pregnant) and talked to them about my previous diagnosis, why I now disagreed with it, and my history. They said, yes, that’s PTSD and we can help with that. It was not Bipolar 2 after all. What a relief!

I’ve been off the Bipolar II medications for a year and a half now. I’m taking some herbal supplements that I feel are helping me. I am seeing a counselor every other week, and we are beginning EMDR therapy to help with the PTSD. And as for my gifted overexcitabilities; knowing now what they are, and being aware, I have been able to slowing overcome my self made stigma, and embrace my passions once more, in a more appropriate manner.

I’m also doing better about releasing my anger at the people who tested my IQ and then refused to tell me my results because they “didn’t want [me] to use it as an excuse not to try in school.” The people who knew I was gifted, and sent me out with no help or explanation that would have saved me years of frustration and hurt and thousands of dollars spent on the wrong medications.

Knowing that this happens to other people has helped me begin to forgive the psychiatrist who just didn’t know any better, I guess. Perhaps if we could bring more awareness to the public, and especially professionals, there will be fewer stories like mine.


About the Author:

Guest blogger Mrs. Warde shares her experience at being misdiagnosed with PTSD

Mrs. Warde is a wife, mother of three, and homeschooler who blogs mostly about homeschooling at Sceleratus Classical Academy. She enjoys various crafts but rarely finishes her projects.



Explore More:

If the topic of the emotional wellness of gifted individuals–especially children and young people–interests you, then you might want to watch this video (below) by SENG or see James P. Webb’s landmark book Misdiagnosis and Dual Diagnoses of Gifted Children and Adults: ADHD, Bipolar, OCD, Asperger’s, Depression, and Other Disorders via my Amazon affiliate link.

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{GHF Blog Hop} What I’ve Learned About Being Gifted as a Grown-Up

Even as a wee one, I was intense. The only way that I'd make this photo was if my mom joined me.

Even as a wee one, I was intense. The only way that I’d make this photo was if my mom joined me.

This post is part of a Gifted Homeschoolers Forum Blog Hop.

I wouldn’t go so far as to call it a universal truth, but a whole lot of parents I know who are raising gifted kids have gone through a bit of shock when the quirks and eccentricities of their kiddos prove to be tiny emotional landmines.

Hit one of those suckers at the right place and time and one can be thrown backwards through years and decades to the awkward phases of being a gifted kid or teen again. Suddenly moments, exchanges, incidents and whole relationships make more sense as they are approached through the lens of “being gifted.”

How do I know this?

Oh, honey. I’ve lived it.

Let’s just say that on the ol’ IQ chart that I’m in the “moderate” range.  In my family tree there are some off-the-charts, profoundly gifted people. Like WHOA! smart.

I am not one of them.

For a long time–like, oh, decades–I downplayed my intelligence for personal and cultural reasons. And then there was that time that I got kicked out of my school’s gifted program, a dark phase chronicled elsewhere here on the blog. The word “gifted” made me shudder for a very long time. I also, frankly, spent a lot of time thinking that I was more than a little eccentric; I feared that I was straight-up nutters.

This fear only increased my in-born tendency toward anxiety.

Around the time that I turned 40, I discovered Dabrowski’s Overexcitabilities.

Well that was quite a shock. At first. Relief came next. And then came the realization that I was just another quirky gifted person opened my heart and mind in ways that I never anticipated.

Finally I had a “reason” for my emotional intensity ( my first crush lasted for years and was totally unrequited). I had a “reason” for my constant urge to fidget, my obsession with textures, and what can only be called a hyperactive imagination. Looking back at my life I could think of incidents and moments in which my overexcitabilities were barriers to relationships and even to my growth as a person.

Like a lot of people I’d joked in adulthood about my undiagnosed ADD/ADHD. Many of those “symptoms” fit with an ADD/ADHD diagnosis. I even picked up some executive functioning tips from places like ADDitude magazine. But just because the technique works doesn’t mean one has the disorder.

As it happens, that’s commonplace: to misidentify gifted people as having a “disorder.”

A couple of years ago I ran across Dr. James Webb’s book, Misdiagnosis and Dual Diagnosis of Gifted Children {Amazon Affiliate Link}. That’s where I figured out things like the fact that my “h-anger” had a reason. I have reactive hypoglycemia, probably because my brain burns too much glucose (can’t. . . stop . . . thinking) and the constant fidgeting thing. Yet if I take care of myself and fuel my body, I can keep the h-anger in check.

These realizations–coupled with my volunteer work for Gifted Homeschoolers Forum–were  turning points for me in how I process information about my past, my present, and my future. Not only have I come to better understand and appreciate who I am, I’ve also found my “tribe.” I’m a member of online groups and even meet periodically with local women who are parenting gifted kids and who, in my opinion, are obviously gifted themselves. Later this month I’m going to my first SENG conference in California to meet some of my online tribe and learn more about the social and emotional needs of gifted people. I’m hoping also to collect stories for my second book while I’m at it.

Having come to terms with giftedness in me, I’ve definitely become a better person–and a better parent. I’m also curious about the experiences of other gifted people like me.

Honestly, I still cringe a little when I talk or write about my being gifted. The assumption out there is that if I say that out loud (Gasp!), then what I’m saying is “I’m better than you.”


What I’m really saying is this: “My experience is no less valid than the norm.”

That’s a lesson that I needed, desperately as I launched my journey into mid-life. And now I’d like to help other gifted people–kids and adults–understand that reality sooner rather than later.

If sharing my story helps others–be it here or in my private Facebook group for readers of this blog (many of them who are also coming to terms with their giftedness), it’s worth it.

What I've Learned from "Gifted Parenting" via RedWhiteandGrew.com as part of the Gifted Homeschoolers Forum July 2014 Blog HopRead other posts in the GHF Blog Hop (July 2014)!

Being gifted is neither more nor less valid than the norm


Filed under Homegrown Kids